A thing must be loved before it is lovable. G.K. Chesterton

Will’s Red Coat is the second book by author Tom Ryan to be featured in THE NEW BARKER book review column. The first was Following Atticus, the true story about an adventure of a lifetime. In paying tribute to a friend who died of cancer, Tom and his dog Atticus attempted to climb all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot peaks, twice in one winter. Tom was a hardened newspaper man, middle-aged, overweight and with a fear of heights. Atticus M. Finch, a minia- ture Schnauzer, opened Tom’s heart and eyes to the world’s beauty and its possibilities. Will’s Red Coat is the true story

of a broken old dog Tom agrees to adopt, and Atticus agrees to tolerate. In addition to being a senior canine, Will is deaf, almost blind and in pain from years of neglect. New Jersey

Schnauzer Rescue pulled Will from a kill shel- ter, where he had been owner-surrendered. When Tom and

Atticus picked Will up from the rescue group volunteers, “he turned wild, snapping and snarling and whipping his head around

“To the right of my old scraped and scarred desk,

a tiny red coat with a thick white collar dangles from a hook. It looks a lot like Christmas and is just about the right size for an elf. There is a bit of magic in it.

Of this, I have no doubt. For that little coat gets me to stop each day to consider what matters in life,

and what it means to be human.” From Will’s Red Coat by Tom Ryan

Published 2017 by Harper Collins Publishers Review by Anna Cooke

trying to bite me,” writes Tom. Reluctantly, Tom went ahead and took Will, but on the drive

home, began making deals with himself on whether or not to keep the dog. During each roadside potty break along the way, Will continued trying to bite Tom. Atticus just watched and at one point Tom said to him, “I think I screwed up, my friend.” An hour away from home, Tom stopped to give Atticus and

Will another break. That’s when Will’s teeth finally found their mark, drawing blood. “My initial instinct was to strike out, to take my free hand and

knock him away. I could never imagine hitting Atticus, but he never attacked me like that.” As Tom’s hand reared back and he readied himself to

backhand Will, he stopped. 52 THE NEW BARKER

Will and Tom Ryan. “Something else took hold, something stronger than the

burning pain in my hand and my rage. It was instantaneous and involuntary. Call it an epiphany of sorts. Or heavenly intervention. With my hand tensed to strike, I stopped thinking about the William I was expecting to meet and instead put myself in his place. I thought about what had been done to him. He had no say in what had befallen him, no say about the pain in his body, about being betrayed, about being left alone in a strange place, about being passed from stranger to stranger,” Tom writes. What unfolds is a beautiful

story about the transformation of two beings, a canine and a human, each set in their ways. Tom’s writ- ing will transport the reader onto his back porch, taking in nature’s sites and sounds around his cozy home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He always seems to be slow-cooking a homemade pot of vegetarian soup on the stove

or cooling a freshly-baked vegan pie on the rail of his back porch. Tom’s phone conversations with his aunt Marijane are both

spirited and spiritual, offering him plenty of guidance on Will’s care. When Tom expressed his frustrations on how best to help the old dog, Marijane replied, “Tommy, sometimes the only thing you can do in hospice is be there for someone. They’ve come to a great reckoning in their lives and they have to figure things out. You can’t take it personally.” Tom had not realized it until that moment that what he was

doing for Will was indeed hospice care. Once he accepts this, he goes about making sure Will is not only comfortable but happy through the use of sounds (leaving music on) and smells (always having fresh flowers in his home). Will begins to relax. “Whenever I’d put him in his bed and cover him up, I’d have

speakers nearby on the floor and choose melodies for him to drift off to, songs with words that lifted the soul. Lullabies, if you will. But I called them Willabies,” said Tom. Sometimes, Will would wander their house, at night. Being

blind, he would end up stuck in a corner, unable to figure out how to turn around. He would cry out for Tom, who more often than not, found Will standing in his own urine or feces. This led to Tom thoughtfully bathing Will in the middle of the night. Where Tom and Atticus climbed actual mountains in

Following Atticus, the obstacles this trio encounters in Will’s Red Coat seem just as insurmountable. Atticus taught Tom the myster- ies of the spirit and Will’s resiliency gave him daily lessons on being grounded Tom and Atticus gave Will a reason to live, and to gently die

with dignity, surrounded by those he loved and who loved him. “It’s never too late to trust again, to love or be loved again; and it’s never too late to live again,” Tom writes.U

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